- Last Updated: 3:17 PM, August 7, 2012
- Posted: 3:22 AM, August 7, 2012
MANCHESTER, England — They’ve played countless historic matches at Old Trafford, the venerable football temple that houses iconic English power Manchester United.
Not many of those, however, have been saturated with more scintillating storylines, twists and raw drama than USA 4, Canada 3 in last night’s Olympic women’s soccer semifinal match.
The match pushed players and its viewers to the limit of emotional exhaustion, and it was not over until an Alex Morgan header whistled past Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod in the third minute of injury time of the second overtime.
If Morgan did not score on that play, the match was seconds from going to penalty kicks to decide who would play Japan in the gold-medal match Thursday night at Wembley Stadium.
“Moments like this are what make sports so cool,’’ U.S. striker Abby Wambach said.
“This was one of the coolest games I’ve ever been a part of,’’ midfielder Lauren Cheney said. “The environment at Old Trafford was unbelievable. To be able to play such an epic semifinal in such a historic venue like this was unbelievable.’’
The game-winner off of Morgan’s head came on a beautiful crossing pass from Heather O’Reilly of East Brunswick, N.J., who had entered the game as a sub in the 101st minute.
“That was a world-class goal by Alex,’’ Delran, N.J., native Carli Lloyd said.
“I told her when we were in the middle of the pile [celebrating], ‘I’m in love with you at this moment. You just sent us to the gold-medal match,’ ” Wambach said.
“I was getting myself ready for penalty kicks, backing up to my line and looking at the spot,’’ U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said. “I need to wrap my head around what just happened.’’
So does Canada, which despite an amazing hat trick from star striker Christine Sinclair still has not defeated the Americans since 2001 — a span of 27 games. The U.S., headed to its fifth consecutive Olympic gold-medal match, is 44-3-5 all-time against Canada.
The Canadians were furious about a curious foul called on McLeod for holding on to the ball for more than six seconds. The call, which came in the 80th minute with the U.S. trailing 3-2, gave the Americans a rare indirect free kick inside the penalty box.
Megan Rapinoe, who had scored the Americans’ first two goals, took the kick and blasted it into the arms of two Canadian players. A handball call gave Wambach a penalty kick she converted to tie the match at 3-3.
“We felt like we were robbed in this game,’’ McLeod said.
“I’ve never seen a decision like that given,’’ Canada coach John Herdman said.
“The referee took it away from us,’’ Sinclair said. “We feel like we didn’t lose. The ref decided the result before it started. We are devastated.’’
Rapinoe said it is “pretty rare’’ to see a referee make that call, but she said McLeod “was taking a long time on goal kicks.’’
Wambach said McLeod was “taking 12 and 13 seconds sometimes. The ref had warned her.’’
The controversy cannot take away from the brilliant action of the game, in which the lead changed so quickly and often in the second half it felt like the final minutes of a tight NBA game.
Sinclair’s second goal in the 68th minute gave Canada a 2-1 lead.
Two minutes later, Rapinoe scored her second of the match with a rocket from the top right corner of the box to tie it at 2-2.
Three minutes later, in the 73rd, Sinclair’s third gave Canada a 3-2 lead.
Three goals in five minutes in world-class soccer is not the norm. But there was nothing normal about this match.
“I’m still in shock thinking of what just happened,’’ Morgan said.
“I can’t believe that just happened,’’ Lloyd said. “It was like a dream.’’